It is rare these days where enough snow falls so early in the season. Opening day, which used to be a snow covered feast in late November, is now an ice filled accident waiting to happen. Even more rare is any sign of good skiing before the New Year. This year was a lucky exception, a week after the lifts started turning, an early season snowfall gave us an early Christmas present; ten inches of the wettest snow mother nature could spit out, followed by a cold snap, which was followed by another fifteen inches of perfect snow, and counting. On this Thursday, everyone who mattered invoked the “eight-inch” rule and called in sick.
This day, the parking lot was filled all the regular cars and trucks, and none of the tourists. As always, the orange truck was parked in the space it always was; right in the corner of the lot where the path the to lift and lodge meet. Like every other winter day, the owner of the orange truck, had placed his skis to mark his place in the lift line. And like always, they were first in line. We could always tell which were his skis. It was something all locals could knew. Maybe it was the combination of the bindings mounted on them and the ski poles beside them. Maybe one day we will be wrong, but I doubt it. We knew each other’s car, skis, boots, bindings, and jacket, but not necessarily hair colour.
On this day, I was lucky enough to be third in line, the closest to the front I have ever been. Once the bull wheel started turning, we all clipped into our skis, and let anticipation build. It was my first day out that year, and I could feel the ants in my pants. I was as restless as those behind me. Merlin, the owner of the orange truck, was calm, as though today was no big thing. As though fifteen inches of snow at the end of November was the most normal thing in the world. As I rode the lift, I watched Merlin ski off. Where everyone had went right to get to ther nearest run, he went left off the lift and into the trees. It took three more lift rides before he showed up in the line again.
When he showed up in the line again, he was covered in more snow than everyone else. We ended up on the same chair for that ride.
“Good day today,” I said.
“Yup,” was Merlin’s reply, “it doesn’t get this good this early anymore.”
“This used to happen all the time?”
“Used to be, not even ten years ago this was normal for this time of year.”
“You always ski alone?”
“Not always,” the local answered, “but usually.”
Riding the chair that day Merlin is when I noticed the patch sewn into his tuque. It looked that had been use since the dawn of time. That hat probably saw more winters than most people waiting in today’s line. That patch was the mark of a true local legend. Last year, I tried to find one in the local ski shop. The shop owner said they did not have any for sale. And would not say anything else. He would not even answer if he knew where to get one. The shop owner has one sewn into his jacket.
Near the top of lift, as we were getting ready ski off, Merlin asked, “You heading left or right?”
“Right,” I told him, “going to hit up the trees off the ridge. Only the patrollers have been in there today.”
“Nah, kid, you’re heading left.”